We have great news to share! Our legislative effort to help the youngest students in Arizona was successful! HB 2123 has officially been signed into law, which will reform outdated zero-tolerance discipline practices and benefit future generations of young students in our state.
The new law limits expulsions and suspensions for students in grades K-4 and prohibits them for students aged 6 and younger. It also establishes policy for schools to explore alternate behavioral and disciplinary interventions and to create a pathway for potential readmission of suspended or expelled students.
As part of the effort to get it passed, the Arizona Department of Education committed to provide funding for early grade teachers to get resources and training to handle mental health issues with young kids as an alternative to suspensions and expulsions. It’s a win-win for students, families and teachers!
We could not have done this without the hard work of our team, advocacy partners, policy leaders, and supporters like YOU! Together, we had a record-breaking year, connecting parents, their students, and lawmakers to create meaningful change. Thank you for making a difference with us in making our schools more safe and just.
Why Focus on School “Push Out” and Education Equity?
We believe that every student deserves a fair and inclusive system that gives them every opportunity to succeed in life, especially in those early years where so much is at stake in their development. We are energized to work toward justice and opportunity for children who are the furthest from it. Over the last 12 years we have found that one of the most important factors in this effort is education equity. Sadly, one of the clearest examples of the equity gap is the outdated discipline practices that push students out of the classroom and prevent them from returning to school.
Students cannot learn when they aren’t in the classroom. Young kids in particular don’t actually learn to behave better if they are suspended or expelled and barred from coming to school. It makes no sense, and yet students in Arizona were still being pushed out of the classroom.
Many students that are being suspended are children with learning or behavioral disabilities that are already behind, so resorting to suspension and expulsion puts them further behind, and sometimes they can’t ever catch up.
On top of this, evidence points out that these harsh punishments are primarily impacting students of color. Black, Native American, and Hispanic students miss disproportionately more days of school than their white counterparts due to suspensions and expulsions.
The Road to Change
We know that addressing equity is not easy. That’s why we worked alongside parents and community leaders to raise awareness, make meaningful connections, and work within the political process to implement policy change.
State lawmakers got to hear from Stand AZ parents like Erika Rocha. She had to fight to keep her young kids in school. Unfortunately, her experience was far too familiar for many in Arizona.
Both of her kids have been diagnosed with learning disabilities and need a bit of extra attention in the classroom. They both receive speech therapy in addition to other resource services. One day with little explanation, their school called to inform Erika that her two young kids were going to be expelled. The school cited issues like talking too much and not listening, but these seemed like such small infractions for that punishment.
Sadly, the lack of school counselors and resources has made school districts too reliant on zero-tolerance policies like suspensions and expulsions. After a lot of convincing and meeting with school officials, Erika was able to keep her kids in school. She was more fortunate than many others.
Thanks to her story, lawmakers saw the importance of this new law.
You can read the whole story in The Arizona Republic article here.
Erika and her family were also featured on the Telemundo Arizona! You can watch the Telemundo Video here!
Victory for Young Students
This victory for kids was made possible by the partnership and dedication of policy leaders, community and government organizations, and parents. We particularly want to thank Representatives Michelle Udall and Jennifer Pawlik, and Senator Paul Boyer, for their leadership in bringing school discipline issues to the forefront at the state capitol and succeeding in passing good policy for students!
Thank you to the ACLU of Arizona for partnering with us on this project, advocating at the legislature with us and adding to our personal stories that showed lawmakers the impact of this new law. And Thank You to the Arizona Department of Education for designating funding for early grade teachers to get resources and training to handle mental health issues with young kids as an alternative to suspensions and expulsions.
We could not have done this without working together! But we aren’t done yet! We are ramping up our efforts to do even more to address education equity in Arizona. Will you join us? Sign up to receive news and updates on Safe and Just Schools.